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City to continue to help fund Concord Singers

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Eric Warmka took the oath of office to replace Lisa Fischer as Ward 2 city councilor in New Ulm, Tuesday.

NEW ULM — The New Ulm City Council agreed to add funding for the Concord Singers back into the 2021 budget at the city’s truth-in-taxation hearing.

In September, the council set the preliminary tax levy at $8,288,283, an increase of 4.96% over the 2020 budget. The levy can be lowered before the end of the year, but cannot be increased. The city was looking for expenses that could be cut in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic allowed some budget areas to carry over costs. Certain departments and commissions did not spend their entire 2020 budget because of a reduction in expenses.

The city initially considered cutting or reducing funds to certain groups and commissions with the understanding that these groups could use unspent money from 2020.

At the public hearing, several members of the Concord Singers addressed the council requesting the $5,500 usually given to the group be given in 2021.

Concord Singers President Andrew Miller described the group as a living billboard for New Ulm. The group travels to various cities throughout the year and promotes New Ulm. In the past year, the Concord Singers traveled less, but still had fixed expenses including insurance and space rental.

Concord Singers Treasurer Rod Karnitz said in addition to fixed costs, the group has no other steady source of income. The money received from the city also goes to equipment purchases and uniforms.

Member Joe Meyer said the group’s travel costs are often not covered by income received from venues. He said a round trip coach bus trip could cost $1,000 and many venues cannot afford to hire the Concord Singers at these costs.

“We’re lucky if we are breaking even on these engagements,” Meyer said.

The council had no issues reinstating the $5,500 for the Concord Singers into the budget. Council President Charlie Schmitz said a lot of cities would love to have gropus like the Concord Singers.

Councilor David Christian said he asked people on the street if they had a problem with the city funding the Concord Singers and did not receive any negative comments.

Councilor Eric Warmka said the Concord Singers were an important part of New Ulm’s community in terms of tourism and marketing. He supported returning the funding to 2020 levels.

Councilor Les Schultz gave assurances the city did not want to end the Concord Singers. He said at a budget discussion the city assumed the group still had funds remaining from 2020 because the pandemic had cut expenses. He said the city was unaware of the group’s fixed expenses.

He did ask how much the Concord Singers currently had in their accounts.

Karnitz said the group did need the money to cover fixed expenses but he did not want to set a precedent of opening up the group’s accounts every time the Concord Singers requested a donation.

Schultz said the city might find additional savings in training expenses. The city had $45,000 for training expenses. This was similar to the 2020 budget. Schultz said he believed the city could carry over some of this expense or reduce it in 2021 because the pandemic prevented some in-person training. Travel costs were likely reduced.

City Finance Director Nicole Jorgensen was uncertain how much of the training budget could be carried over from 2020, but an estimated $15,000 could be cut. The city anticipated additional training costs would be needed in 2022 to compensate for any missed training in 2020 and 2021.

Schultz made a motion to approve the expenditure adjustments to the 2021 budget adding back the $5,500 for the Concord Singers and have the finance director take another look at the training budget.

The motion passed unanimously.

Christian said New Ulm’s tax rate would likely decrease slightly from last year with market values going up.

The final levy will come before the council at the next regular meeting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15.

The council received a report from City Engineer Joe Stadheim on the proposed 2021 Capital Improvement Program. The program includes recommendations devoted to the reconstruction of deficient roads and utilities.

In the last 13 years, the city has reconstructed 33.5 miles of roads, averaging 2.6 miles per year. According to Stadheim’s report, the majority of New Ulm roads are adequate.

If approved this year, the program would improve 1.7 miles of roads. Roads recommended for utility, street and alley improvements include: Jefferson Street from 7th N. Street to 12th N. Street; Washington Street from 4th N. Street to 5th N. Street; State Street from 16th S. Street to 17th South Street; Maplewood Drive from Red Bud Road to Ryan Road; 20th North Street from Spring Street to Front Street.

City surface reconstruction projects would include: 3rd North Street from Garden Street to Washington Street; 8th North Street from Franklin Street to Washington Street; 18th North Street from Broadway to State Street; 20th North Street from Highway 14 to North Broadway and Franklin Street from 17th North Street to Highway 14.

Other recommended projects are the traffic signal and ADA improvements at 16th North Street and Highway 14 and pavement reconstruction around hangers and a parking lot at the airport.

A mill and overlay with ADA improvements on 10th S. Street from Broadway to Flandrau State Park could happen but is contingent on the county receiving state park road funds.

These capital projects are estimated at $5.27 million with a bonding need of $2.44 million.

Eric Warmka took the oath of office during the regular city council meeting and officially joined the New Ulm City Council. Interviews were conducted before the Nov. 17 city council meeting to elect a candidate to fill the unexpired term of former Ward 2 councilor Lisa Fischer. Warmka was unanimously selected by the council to complete the term.

Warmka’s first action as a city councilor was to make a motion to adopt a new City Councilor Handbook. The new handbook was created to help new council members. In addition to Warmka, Andrea Boettger will take over as the new council president in January.

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